How Do Paralegals Improve the Law Firm’s Bottom Line? – Part Two of an Occasional Series

In the previous article addressing this topic we discussed the fact that appropriate utilization of paralegals will improve the quality of services provided by a law firm.  In this issue, we’ll take a look at hiring and retaining paralegals.

In recent years, it has become common for employers of legal professionals to look beyond the candidate’s legal education and experience and consider the entire background of the applicant.  It is not uncommon for a paralegal to have had a career in a different, perhaps unrelated, field before returning to school to earn a degree or certificate in paralegal studies.  Many paralegals bring a depth and richness to the workplace due to prior career and educational experiences outside of the legal profession.  For example, before pursuing their careers as paralegals, the authors worked as a high school teacher and advertising administrative assistant and in property management.

In order to assure profitability and satisfaction for the firm the paralegal should be qualified through work and education, appropriately trained as a paralegal.  Consideration must also be given to seeking an employee who will be a match for the lawyers with whom he or she will be working as well as possessing a desire and ability to work in the areas of law practiced by the firm.

The firm should develop a clear formula of revenue projections and billable hours.  Similar to new associate attorneys, less experienced paralegals may have a high number of billable hours because nearly all of their time is spent performing paralegal tasks at a lower realization rate.  A more seasoned paralegal may contribute to the firm by taking on administrative and management responsibilities but will also be billed out at a higher rate and commensurately higher realization rate.  Experienced paralegals often provide additional benefits to the firm by training and mentoring staff, participating in marketing strategies, and serving on firm committees.  Offering such opportunities to experienced paralegals may serve to provide interesting challenges and higher job satisfaction resulting in greater retention and less turnover.

The primary sources for hiring qualified paralegals In San Luis Obispo County are through recognized paralegal programs, professional associations and by word of mouth.  Most graduates of the Cuesta Community College paralegal studies program do not have extensive law office experience but they have the benefit of enthusiasm and up to date legal training.  The Central Coast Paralegal Association publishes a monthly newsletter and will gladly run help wanted inquiries.  Generally, a firm can contact any paralegal who is active in the local legal community and he or she will “put the word out” about an opening.

By treating paralegals as the professionals they are, providing opportunities for continuing legal education and career growth within the firm, providing fair compensation and recognition, paralegals will become an integral part of the firm’s ability to provide high quality legal services to its clients.  Paralegals who are fortunate enough to enjoy such a work environment will work hard to further the firm’s mission and success in the community.  A mutually beneficial relationship if ever there was one!

Ellen Sheffer                           Leslie Donahue

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